What is Legal Custody?

By Matthew T. Hovey, Esquire

Many are surprised to learn that in Pennsylvania there are two types of custody: physical and legal.  Physical custody is how the time with the child is divided.  What then is legal custody?

23 Pa.C.S. § 5322 defines legal custody.  “Legal custody” is defined as “the right to make major decisions on behalf of the child, including but not limited to, medical, religious, and educational decisions.”  As a result, legal custody also grants the individual the access to all relevant documents for the child, including, but not limited to, medical records, report cards, and the ability to attend doctors’ visits and parent/teacher conferences, so that the individual can make informed decisions for the child.

Legal custody can be divided one of two ways: solely or jointly.  Sole legal custody is “the right of one individual to exclusive legal custody of the child.”  Shared legal custody is “the right of more than one individual to legal custody of the child.”

If legal custody is shared and the parties cannot agree on a decision, either party may petition the court for resolution.  For example, if a child requires braces, but one parent refuses to consent, then the party attempting to obtain the braces can file for court intervention.  Typically, the court will conduct a hearing in order to obtain testimony on evidence on the issue, then issue an order resolving the dispute.

If you or a family member require legal representation to help establish, effectuate, or exercise legal custody rights, please contact our office at 610-845-3803 for a free initial consultation.

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